The Sunday Nature Call, Uke 25: The Sun Always Rises; or, When Smoke Gets in Your Eyes
New birds:1, Journey to date: 74, and a correction
Svarthvit fluesnapper (Ficedula hypoleuca)
The Uke 23 entry noted the Varsler, I was mistaken. I did my due diligence uncovered the true identity, the habitat and warning call were the keys to the mystery.
Møller (Sylvia curruca)
Varsler (Lanius excubitor)
The Sun Always Rises; or, When Smoke Gets in Your Eyes
As I held out my hand a tiny gray flake alighted. Even for Oslo, a snowflake in June is a rarity. Ah, but this was no snowflake. This was Sankthansaften – Saint John the Baptist’s Eve.
My time in Norway was getting shorter, just like the nights. Sunset at this latitude and month is so slow, the angle so oblique, that the transition from direct sun to twilight is unnoticeable. The light of the just hiding sun lingers, as if the sun feels there is too much living to be done. I go to bed late, with visible light and wake to a sun that has been up for many hours. The analogy to my time in Norway has been obvious.
I have no personal tradition of celebrating Sankthansaften. My Midwestern summers accepted earlier and complete darkness in comparison to the high latitudes, perhaps in exchange for unrelenting heat. But when in Norway…
Sankthansaften also marks the end of the school and anticipation of summer holiday, the 5-6 weeks in Norway when EVERYBODY is on vacation, preferably at a coastal or mountain cabin. Side trips to America are allowed. For Scandinavians, the evening is properly observed with sea-side bonfires, maybe a speech, and revelry. I went fishing.
My catch in Norway has been zero although my satisfaction has been great. Remember, it’s called fishing and not catching for a reason. Tonight seemed like a fitting reason to whet a line – it’s nice to invent a special reason – and give it one last go.
The species of interest now in Norway is Atlantic Salmon. The mighty swimmers are coursing from near shore feasts to natal rivers. Their transformation from saltwater creatures to freshwater fish is nothing short of amazing. Their transition back to saltwater following the spawn squares the wonder.
I would not be fishing for salmon. To fish for salmon would require a car and a special fishing license, and probably a trespass fee. I fished the sea, a free right to all in Norway.
I expected nothing in terms of a piscine catch based on previous attempts, this was no different. Contemporary fishing is about the effort, the experience; I was really trying to catch a future memory. For that that there is no daily quota.
There is nothing odd about riding the bus in Oslo with fishing gear. I like Oslo. My ride on the trusty #32 Kværnerbyen dropped me adjacent to Lysaker Brygge, it was a short walk.
Merrymakers were visible in their preparation throughout the day. I saw an unusual abundance of shopping bags marked with the distinct logo of the state liquor store, the night demanded provisions. Others disembarked the bus with me, much better dressed and destined for an overtly social occasion. I headed for the docks.
Brethren with rods in action preceded me. Long rods were their symbols of legitimacy and purpose. My kit revealed my status as an interloper, but also as no threat to their efforts.
These anglers favored floats and live bait. They seemed to me like non-native Norwegians and truly interested in catching supper. A family left with a bag of fish. I found a solitary spot and cast.
Two days earlier was the Summer Solstice. I marked the low sun of the evening with a last photoshoot of the new US Embassy and birdwalk along Lysaker River. The meteorological differences between the Iowa home and Oslo were more striking than simple statistics suggested.
Daylight in Linn County was 15 hours, 15 minutes; Oslo logged 18:50.
Sunrise CR, 5: 31 am Sunset CR, 8:46 pm
Sunrise Oslo, 3:54 am Sunset Oslo, 10:45 pm
But the truer measure went beyond the gross metrix of sunrise and sunset. Dawn awakened at 2:10 AM in Oslo and dusk at 12:29 AM. If there were stars over Røa, then I missed them.
With the abundant light it was difficult to make out all the fires that I knew ringed the fjord. The ubiquitous smell of smoke confirmed to my nose what I eyes couldn’t see. Clearly, Ola Nordmann across the bay from me was no master of a healthy flame. That “bonfire” finally smoked me out and caused my retreat.
A new location, closer to the hungry anglers and a couple of last casts for good measure. A man hauled in mackerel, scrappy and lean they were soon brained and in the bucket. I took down my pole and pit stopped at the corner market on my way to the bus. Instead of fish, I would be headed home with mineral water and candy. I was sure Meghan would be happy with my catch.
Looking up, looking ahead, and keeping my pencil sharp.
That was it?
The predictions of gloom from my countrymen about the diminished daylight at this high latitude were greatly exaggerated. The winter solstice has came and went, and I feel none the worse. In fact, I’m probably in some of the best shape I’ve been in years.
On the solstice, there were 5:53 of daylight in Oslo, latitude 60º. I actually welcomed the day of little sun in Berlin. Berlin rests at 53º North; we enjoyed a full 7:39 of daylight. For reference, my Iowa home at 42º had 9:07 of sunlight.
Did the days seem shorter in Oslo than in Iowa? Yes, of course they did, what a silly question. But short days felt more like an exaggeration of my normal winter world. What was the noticeably strange element was the altitude of the sun.
Solar altitude is just a fancy way of saying how high the sun gets in the sky. During summer the sun seems to hang up high in the sky, broiling everything in Iowa: high altitude. In the winter, even short buildings can blot out the sun: low altitude.
The greater the latitude the more extreme the altitude of the sun. That was the change I most noticed. My Norwegian neighbors had to search for a sun that struggled to climb 7º above the horizon. I saw an altitude of double that in Berlin. The solstice low for Iowa was a towering 25º.
The good news is that at such a low angle, the sun baths all that it touches with a rich light. The trees, rocks, and even some people, just look so much better in that low light. In southern Norway, this has meant my waking daylight hours have been especially beautiful when the sky has been clear, and not just the golden hours at dawn and dusk.
The bad news is that the sun is so weak that it cannot melt ice. The walkways, the roads, seemingly everything gets a coat of frost for the season. Pedestrian beware. Today we “basked” in the sunlight at a local ice rink. It was a lovely scene. Yet facing the sun to take in its effect only got me temporary blindness, no warmth for my checks. I did feel our black duffle bag and noticed a touch of absorbed warmth, but it could not get hot.
Since 3 August, my Oslo daylight has diminished by 10:49. I refuse to say “lost” because the days are still just as long, there is just less light. The days still need to be lived; think of yourself more as a wolf than a bear.
I didn’t predict having a problem with minimal daylight, and I’m glad I was right. What I am worried about is the coming disappearance of darkness. The perpetual daylight of the Norwegian summer is something I think I will find very unsettling.